It’s Valentine’s Day, and whether you’re lucky in love or jaded and cynical, there are plenty of romantic novels out there to fit your mood. I asked some esteemed EW writers and editors for their favorite love stories, and as expected, we got some earnest responses and a couple of oddballs.
To start out, two of my favorites would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (passionate and seriously screwed up — just as romance should be, right?) and Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman (an erudite story made accessible by a raw portrait of young love).
Here are a few picks from EW’s books editor Tina Jordan:
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak: Is this tale of a physician and poet and the woman he loves (who’s not his wife, btw) made romantic by the sweep of the Russian Revolution and Pasternak’s glorious writing? Or because the face of young Omar Sharif is imprinted upon Yuri’s?
Persuasion by Jane Austen: I’m sure there will be lots of votes for Pride and Prejudice, but I’d like to put in a word for my favorite Austen novel, which could be the textbook example of a moving love story (intelligent, long-ignored, slightly long-in-the-tooth middle daughter finds love despite her obnoxious father and annoying sisters).
NEXT: Kristen Baldwin on a Dickensian romance…
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Kristen Baldwin: Ok, so it’s not a romance novel, but if you don’t cry at the end when Esther tours the cottage with Mr. Jarndyce — and then learns she will live there with her true love, Mr. Woodcourt — then you are a stone-hearted individual who does not deserve roses or chocolates on this fine holiday.
NEXT: A book that’s way better than the movie…
One Day by David Nicholls
Tina Jordan: Nicholls’ book — unlike the movie — is a completely unsentimental love story, sharp and snappy, its scenes richocheting back and forth between the two main characters.
Lanford Beard: It’s such a beautifully written tragic love story of characters who can’t get past themselves and recognize how they’re the only ones who can make each others’ lives better. The second they finally get together (after years of yearning), you know it’s going to end badly — but you can’t stop reading. Nicholls writes brilliantly for both Emma and Dex, and the experience he, as a 40-something writing the novel, brings just as much to their later lives as it does to their misspent youthful. You’d think after 100 or so pages of bait-and-switch, you’d be sick of rooting for the main characters, but the prose and the perspective are so captivating you must see how it all unfurls.
NEXT: Ken Tucker on an American classic…
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ken Tucker: From Jay Gatsby and his decades-long, always frustrated love for Daisy, we learn that the unrequited stuff can be the most intense.
NEXT: Darren Franich on a lesser-known Fitzgerald romance…
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Darren Franich: It’s way messier than Gatsby, but I’ve always had a special fascination with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last completed novel. Protagonist Dick Diver — a stand-in for Fitzgerald himself — is a hopelessly romantic jerk who falls in and out of love with a couple women over the course of the novel. The specific details are rife with metaphor and Freudian subtext — yay, literature! — but I’ve always remembered how vividly Fitzgerald captures the complete sweep of a doomed relationship: The early passion, the years of happiness, the decline, the lies, and most of all, the sense that one person always walks away from a breakup much stronger than the other.
NEXT: A movies editor chooses a big best-seller…
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Jill Bernstein: It’s a sweeping, adventure-filled romance that crosses both continents and centuries.
NEXT: One of our more sarcastic writers doesn’t disappoint…
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Twilight by Stephenie Meyers
Keith Staskiewicz: It’s a tie between Lolita and Twilight, both of which involve a disturbing age difference and show that romance can also be super creepy.
NEXT: A beloved Marquez classic…
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquez
Tina Jordan: Anything I say about this wonderful novel will be a gross oversimplification. But so be it. García Marquez’s tale of the decades-long love between a doctor and the woman he did not marry is one of those beautifully constructed novels where layer after layer peels away like tissue paper, exposing the emotions and motivations and beating hearts of the characters. Nothing happens and everything happens….
Shaunna Murphy: This book COULD be seen as the triumph of the endurance of true love through decades of insurmountable obstacles, or as a sweet reminder that love can be beautiful at any age. Those septuagenarians are crazy! But I like it because Marquez colorfully exposes love for what it truly is: an emotional and physical plague comparable to cholera.
NEXT: An “unfortunate” but passionate love story…
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Marc Snetiker: Not all love stories are happy, and there’s no better case for this than the woeful saga of Lemony Snicket and his unrequited lover Beatrice, the gloomy souls behind A Series of Unfortunate Events. Part mystery and part tragic catastrophe (betrayal! faked deaths! transubstantiated identities!), the series told the tale of two lost lovers over thirteen gloriously morose installments. Sometimes love can be so depressing, no?
NEXT: A page-turner by an Irish novelist…
Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
Lanford Beard: It’s a classic underdog story. Athletic big city boy Jack Foley falls for dowdy, insecure small towner Bernadette “Benny” Hogan as they attend university together in 1950s Dublin. He looks past her frumpy figure and, in doing so, allows her to see all the good things about herself. The couple must face the hard knocks of circumstance when Benny is forced to return home, where her late father’s slimy apprentice Sean Walsh awaits her, while beautiful frenemy Nan Walsh sets her sights on Jack. Binchy’s page-turning prose and saucy plot twists were riveting enough that the novel was made into a 1995 film that introduced the world to Minnie Driver and somehow portrayed Colin Firth as horrible and unappealing (who knew that was possible?).
NEXT: The next one is on a lot of people’s lists…
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Michelle Profis: I was head over heels in love with The Time Traveler’s Wife years before it had its big screen debut (which came nowhere near doing the book justice). I’ve never read a novel that captured the shifts of love so brilliantly and with such a well-developed, heartbreaking concept. Bah, I get emotional just thinking about it!
NEXT: An addictive workplace romance…
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Helen Eisenbach: My hands-down favorite of this (and possibly any) year was Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments: sweet and tart, funny and clever and surprisingly affecting, with a cast of indelible characters who leave you wishing you could see them on the big screen. The minute I reached the final page I turned around and started it again.